From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is this Harper's vision for Canadian prisons

In private prisons around the country, immigrants languishing in detention centers are being put to work by profit-making companies like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for far below the minimum wage. For doing a range of manual labor in the facility, the immigrants, many of whom are not legally permitted to work in the United States, are paid between $1-$3 a day.

It's not just immigrants who are being put to work as slave labour, America's war on immigrant labour has caused massive labour shortages in  the agriculture sector, but have no fear the US's love of locking up its citizens has provided a ready made replacement pool

"They wake us up between 2.30 and 3am and kick us out of our housing unit by 3.30am. We get fed at 4am. Our work supervisors show up between 5am and 8am. Then it's an hour to a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the job site. Then we work eight hours, regardless of conditions … We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants …
"Currently, we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don't check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break, we get a major ticket which takes away our 'good time'."
Lest you think it stops there, many prisons lease out factory space to private industry as well  

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside. All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day. 

But it doesn't end there, the defense industry is rather fond of prison slave labour itself

According to CNN Money, the U.S. highly skilled and well-paid “aerospace workforce has shrunk by 40 percent in the past 20 years. Like many other industries, the defense sector has been quietly outsourcing production (and jobs) to cheaper labor markets overseas.” (Feb. 24) It seems that with prison labor, these jobs are also being outsourced domestically.

Meanwhile, dividends and options to a handful of top stockholders and CEO compensation packages at top military corporations exceed the total payment of wages to the more than 23,000 imprisoned workers who produce UNICOR parts. 

The prison work is often dangerous, toxic and unprotected. At FCC Victorville, a federal prison located at an old U.S. airbase, prisoners clean, overhaul and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat and coated in toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and chemicals
A federal lawsuit by prisoners, food service workers and family members at FCI Marianna, a minimum security women’s prison in Florida, cited that toxic dust containing lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic poisoned those who worked at UNICOR’s computer and electronic recycling factory. 

Prisoners there worked covered in dust, without safety equipment, protective gear, air filtration or masks. The suit explained that the toxic dust caused severe damage to nervous and reproductive systems, lung damage, bone disease, kidney failure, blood clots, cancers, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, skin lesions, and circulatory and respiratory problems. This is one of eight federal prison recycling facilities — employing 1,200 prisoners — run by UNICOR. 

After years of complaints the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Occupational Health Service concurred in October 2008 that UNICOR has jeopardized the lives and safety of untold numbers of prisoners and staff. (Prison Legal News, Feb. 17, 2009) 

Viewed through this lens Harper's lock em up and throw away the key policies begin to make a whole lot more sense at least from a corporate point of view. If you care about social justice not so much.

 Prison labour is a massive corporate subsidy that costs the treasury billions a year and wreaks untold destruction upon society, this is why we should care about what Harper is up to and move heaven and earth to stop him.


  1. Sodexho already has a foothold in Canada. From Corporate Watch UK:

    "The prison industry accounts for 1% of Sodexho's total revenue. In addition to providing ancillary services (food, grounds keeping, etc.) to a number of prisons throughout continental Europe, Sodexho Alliance owns for-profit private prison companies in the U.K. and Australia. Sodexho's subsidiaries—Australian Integrated Management Systems and United Kingdom Detention Services—not only privately operate prisons and refugee detention centers, but also work with governments to design, build and finance new prisons.117

    Overall, Sodexho have some involvement with ninety-one prison facilities in the UK, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands. Sodexho is also part of a consortium which, in 2002, won two contracts to operate five prison facilities in Chile.118 See for more information from Sodexho on their approach to the prison industry.

    In an extraordinary statement in May 2001, Pierre Bellon stated that Sodexho were pulling out of Corrrections Corporation of America. ‘In June 1994, we acquired an 8% stake in CCA... we have now determined that our CCA investment is no longer in line with our strategic objectives and is in conflict with our policy." 119

    However, this did not end Sodexho's involvement with the prison industry. "Sodexho will provide services to prisons only in those countries, which are, established democracies, where death penalty is illegal and which do have rehabilitative policies for inmates”. 120 They did however, concede that they would only be providing services at prisons, and not owning them. “Sodexho will not own any prison or jail facility.”121

    Sodexho's statement and the sale of its stake in CCA was a response to widespread criticism and an extensive campus-based campaign in the USA with support worldwide which were aimed at ending Sodexho's relationship with the private prison industry..."

    1. Private prisons are coming, several US prison corps facing a slew of lawsuits domestically have announced their intentions of exploring opportunities in Canada and in fact have been lobbying the Harper government for some time.

  2. Too many Americans are in prison today, and it is very important to improve the penitentiary system. You seem to be a very informed person in this kind of legal issues. You can publish articles about it on Attorney Online. This is a category with prison legal news. You can publish links to legal sites in your articles promoting your legal services or services of other persons.